Matrix Management

Matrix management and lack of clarity improves engagement

A 2016 McKinsey article “Revisiting the matrix organization” quotes a Gallup survey finding that employees in matrix feel less clear about what’s expected of them than their non-matrixed counterparts. But maybe other findings in the survey show that this is a good thing!

A disappointing finding is that most people in organizations, whether matrixed or not are not engaged with their jobs this has serious implications for productivity, quality and retention but is consistent with previous surveys on this topic.

However the really interesting finding for me is that the more an individual was matrixed, the more likely they were to be engaged. Only 28% of employees were positively engaged in non-matrixed roles; this rose to 34% in “super matrixed” roles. The number of people who are actively disengaged fell from 16% to 11%.

So it seems that the more people are matrixed, the higher the level of engagement.

In my book “Making the matrix work – how matrix managers engage people and cut through complexity” I argued that, managed correctly, a matrix should lead to higher levels of engagement because it requires more autonomy and ownership of individual roles.

In my own career my favourite roles were those where I had a lot of flexibility about what I got involved in. This allowed me to shape my role and take much more ownership than ones where I had a clear job description
Super-matrixed employees were more likely to have received recognition or praise during the past seven days and more likely to feel that that their opinions counted, and that their fellow employees were committed to doing quality work.

It looks as though working with a larger number of peers and having a broader view across the organization are positive factors in creating engagement in matrix organizations.

McKinsey conclude that clearer roles and accountabilities would help with engagement. But the matrix tends to lead to lower clarity and less linear accountability – but according to the data also leads to more engagement.
Our approach is to give individuals the skills to create their own clarity, deal with ambiguity and manage the reality of accountability without control.

After all if we could be completely clear on goals we wouldn’t need a matrix, we could just cascade our perfect view of the world down from the top. A matrix is a reflection of a complex, multidisciplinary world where priorities change. We need to embrace this rather than try to drive out the flexibility.

It looks like we may get improvements in engagement as a by-product.

See more about our matrix management learning path including a module on managing clarity and ambiguity.

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